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Prior Legislation on Groundwater Use Policy is a Must for Any Drilling of Bore wells for Agricultural Use in Manipur

Reports say that the Manipur government is to take up a project for boring 550 irrigation wells under the Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojana (PMKSY) with an objective to make the state self-reliant in agricultural production.

This was disclosed by Manipur Chief Minister Nongthombam Biren on February 12 during the ongoing 12th session of the 11th Manipur Legislative Assembly in reply to a query raised by MLA Th Lokeshwore during the question hour session.

Biren said that the present government is targeting to become self-reliant in agricultural production, and to meet the challenges posed by water scarcity caused by deforestation, the state government is to bore irrigation tube wells under PMKSY.

Of the total 550 tube wells and dug wells to be bored at various places in Manipur, 495 will be tube wells while the remaining 55 will be dug wells.

The total cost of the project will be Rs. 61.68 crore for tube wells and Rs. 57.26 crore for dug wells.

The chief minister said the boring of wells would be taken up after surveying the areas where groundwater is present through satellite mapping.

Each well will serve an area of around 2-3 hectares adding that the process of digging will begin after discussion and consent of the identified villages. Most of the wells would be operated with the support of solar energy in pumping out groundwater. Under the PMKSY-HKKP (GM), the construction work of 50 tube wells have been executed, the chief minister added.

However, before implementation of the project it would be better to discuss what adverse effects it may have on the environment.

The news of the project of 550 bore wells appears to be good news for farmers who want to cultivate their fields throughout the year. Though Manipur is an agrarian state, our farmers mainly depend on rainwater for cultivation and irrigation of their fields.

If the bore wells are dug, the farmers will not depend only on rains for irrigation, and their cultivation of paddy and other vegetables in the lean season. The groundwater will be their reliable source of water for agricultural activities. This will surely increase the agricultural production and help in bringing self-reliance to agricultural production in the state.

In many states of India farmers depend mainly on groundwater for irrigation. With increasing population, lesser land holdings and urbanisation, deeper bore wells are dug for groundwater extraction. The wells are bored into an underground aquifer in the earth’s surface, to extract water for various purposes.

It may be mentioned that excessive drilling of bore wells has led to exploitation of groundwater at higher rates, than the rate of water recharge, and caused depletion of the groundwater levels.

The project for boring of the said 550 irrigation wells including 55 dug wells has to follow some criteria as it is to be taken up under a government project.

However, drilling bore wells without having a legislation for groundwater use policy, very highly increases the chances of exploitation of groundwater which will then get depleted.

Therefore, to protect groundwater depletion and monitor drilling bore wells, many states like Karnataka and Kerala have come up with laws and a statutory authority to regulate and keep a tab on groundwater utilisation. Some states have implemented a groundwater legislation act, meant to prevent drilling of bore wells without the permission of government bodies, in water scarce regions. However, some states allow only drilling of drinking water bore wells without the need for obtaining permission.

The Central Ground Water Board (CGWB) has come out with reports on the groundwater status in the country. Uncontrolled use of bore well technology leads to exploitation of groundwater at higher rates than the rate of water recharge, which could cause drastic depletion of groundwater.

The landowner also has the right to collect and dispose of all the water under his land, since groundwater is part and parcel of the land and there is no separate title of ownership over groundwater.

Therefore, tube wells and bore wells are drilled in Manipur for private use and commercial purposes at the discretion of the land owners who can afford the cost of drilling to extract underground water.

Here, it may be mentioned that on an average, as per the specifications of the NABARD, the spacing between bore wells should be 250 meters, which is not being observed anywhere, due to failure of strict legal measures.

As practiced in other states of India many people in Manipur also use tube wells and borewells for drinking and domestic purposes. In other states of India farmers use it for irrigation and industrial production.

A number of studies and reports say that groundwater, although a renewable resource, is limited in its occurrence in time and space. The mindless pursuit for extracting more and more groundwater by all the users has already started exerting tremendous pressure on this limited resource. A good part of groundwater is also fast becoming unfit for human use both due to natural and other reasons.

Some reports say the excessive withdrawal from groundwater tables is one of the reasons for the decline in agriculture output in the country over the years. The excessive drilling of bore wells has led to the depletion in the groundwater table and consequently, around 68 per cent of India is affected by drought.

A number of studies on groundwater also say that as water level is falling at an alarming rate in most parts with hard rocks in the country, farmers are continuously struggling to cope up with the situation. Millions of open dug wells have either gone dry or are yielding little water and that too mostly seasonally. Deepening of a dug well in areas with hard rocks is expensive and difficult as it requires blasting. Even after that there is no guarantee that regional water levels will not go down any further in the near future, demanding more deepening.

In order to have a dependable source of water for farmers, industries and households and to prevent depletion of groundwater due to exploitation of it, it is better to have a legislation on groundwater use and drilling of bore wells, before going ahead with the implementation  of the project of drilling bore wells for irrigation and agricultural activities, because not all bore wells are productive if it lowers the water table and deplete the groundwater and consequently cause drought when rainwater is less, experts say.

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